Wonders of the World

The Power of Emptiness

Read more about the history and science of the Magdeburg Hemispheres at the Skulls in the Stars blog. via BoingBoing.



Magdeburg for me was always about the power of emptiness, how emptiness holds together the two halves of the whole. (read more about the experiment first conducted in 1656) This Fall for the first time I had the chance to visit Magdeburg, a town that has been around for over 1200 years.

Magdeburg Stendal University

Magdeburg Stendal University

Magdeburg was a hot place some 1000 years ago where more history happened that in many of today's capitals of the world. Since 1991 Magdeburg has a college with an additional campus in Stendal, a town that has been around for only 800 years.

The Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences had invited me to give a talk about Memory: „Domi-No:Digital Media as Memory Places“ [the talk was similar to the talk I gave at TEDx Vienna] an interesting topic in a part of the world that has switched memories recently as the Berlin Wall fell and the German Democratic Republic disappeared.

Screen Shot 2011-12-15 at 10.50.52 PM

Screen Shot 2011-12-15 at 10.50.52 PM

Prof. Dr. Michael Herzog had invited me to give the talk and Mr. Klaus Schmotz, the Oberbürgermeister of Stendal (what's an Oberbürgermeister in English?) received us in his office at the main square in Stendal.

It was quite a day late in October, Michael had managed all the logistics which was quite a task as I gave the talk twice - in Magdeburg and in Stendal and we had to use some eight different trains, busses, subways, trams to get to the different places. I always enjoy working with students and this was especially rewarding as the two groups of students were very interested and asked lots of questions. I hope to be able to go back and work more interactively with the groups. At the end of the day a group led by the Prorector picked my brains about academic outreach and alumni programs in the US to learn from cultural differences how the university can benefit. A very interesting discourse. Then after a dinner more trains and busses and trams until we finally reached home by 11 PM for some well-deserved classical music.

There's much more to Magdeburg than emptiness but the students can definitely benefit from understanding that there is a lot of memory that is not remembered and that not knowing is sometimes the most valuable piece to learn.

More to follow...

Originally published 15 Dec 2011

Recovering the Aura in the Age of Digital Reproduction

Recovering the Aura in the Age of Digital Reproduction

Much has been lamented about the loss of the Aura of Art in the Age of Digital Media - mostly because the transition from old to new media has been poorly understood or poorly executed. And then comes an amazing collection of landscape photographs by someone who has never been there, has not even taken the photos.

Cities in Media

Back in 2011 I set two vastly different movie projects about the visual representation of cities against each other: Vienna and San Francisco. Here comes another very interesting project: In 1927 the cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene created a film about life in London and 85 years later filmmaker Simon Smith recreated the footage in today's London. Little has changed in the surrounding architecture yet the feeling is vastly different. via Photoblographer


The archaeological terrain of an idealised consumerist society

Moving into the future and looking back, you may find a huge abandoned architectural structure that may once have been some sort of temple or ritual center by a culture not clearly understood. For some reason yet to be discovered it was abandoned in a unused state. Welcome to the South China Mall: with its 892,000 square meters leasable space it still affords the title of the largest shopping center in the world. Yet less than one percent of the 2350 retail spaces are occupied. Archaeologists will have a hard time understanding what happened here based on excavation of other shopping malls. Grégoire Basdevant produced a 30 minute documentary of this vast Emptyness that describes itself as "…sunny and zealous South California Coast and San Francisco, clear and enchanting Amsterdam, elegant and romantic Champs- Elysees Ave (sic) in Paris, mysterious and passionate Venice, sensational and beautiful Caribbean coast and adventurous Tropical Rain Forest. Such zones display the world's famous water scenes and create relax and romantic shopping and living environment: you can enjoy yourself and have delicious foods while shopping and also enjoy cultural communication and body-building while in diversion. In terms of humanistic concern, it allows you to enjoy anywhere and delivers to you the higher spiritual enjoyment besides the creature comfort." (Unedited quote from the New South China Mall [Wikipedia] website via Domusweb)

This place has not been abandoned but never occupied in the first place. Watch the locals use it as a gym for their morning t'ai chi exercise

Via Gizmodo > DomusWeb

New South China Mall, Living City from Grégoire Basdevant on Vimeo.

"The archaeological terrain of an idealised consumerist society" quoted from DomusWeb

The Charity of Music

[UPDATE]  The Landfillharmonic Movie is now available on Vimeo and to own on disc or for a screening.  

Everything that happens is somewhat connected - we can only see it rarely.

I just received a nice email from the San Francisco Symphony explaining the tax benefits when I donate [UPDATE: link dead] to the Orchestra. I am happy to have such a wonderful orchestra in San Francisco and Michael Tilson Thomas has a wonderful way to bring music to many who otherwise would not even consider classical music. My daughter watched with interest his Keeping Score videos already at the age of three.

Yet sometimes things come together and fall into place. Five minutes before I received the email, I found this online:

Landfill Harmonic movie teaser

It's a movie teaser for a full-length documentary from Landfill Harmonic



I will donate here this year and I told the SF Symphony - I hope they understand.

There is more information here and you can donate here. You may not get a tax write-off for this (they are still in the process of registering their organization with the IRS) so you will have to review your priorities.

You can also send instruments to the film production studio: The Landfill Harmonic Project, Eureka Productions Inc., 3419 E. University Dr. Phoenix, AZ 85034. (this is a physical address, not a link)

And if nothing else connect with them on Facebook and spread the word.


I sent a note to the Director of Gift Planning at the SF Symphony. Maybe they can help out with instruments, or inviting the orchestra to the Davis Symphony Hall.

Update - a second video: Landfill Harmonic movie teaser



Lost in Time I always had this interest in seemingly lost and forgotten towns. Not the truly forgotten and therefore famous places. More the ones that are not even famous for being forgotten. Maybe not forgotten enough - yet. Anyone can exit the Autostrada A21 at Cremona to visit some tourist attractions. The next exit - almost blocked by spider webs due to its rare use - is the interesting one, arriving at a small town square completely asleep - maybe for years already, probably just for the siesta from 1 - 3.30. This is where the unexpected nothing happens. The great café that serves you nothing because it is closed, the store where you can't buy anything, the church you can't visit.

This Italian town is lost - I can't remember where it exactly was and poking around on Google maps led to nothing. Some places I visit on a more or less regular schedule. Among them is Buttonwillow, a place I discovered when LA Weekly ran a story in 1997 [needs reference] from a writer who spent a week at the Buttonwillow onramp. Since then whenever I drive I-5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, I try to make time to go to Buttonwillow - a 4 mi detour into nowhere.

After a long time I've been back yesterday. The Buttonwillow onramp hosted the first Starbucks on I-5 across from the truck stop and now even has an Indian Restaurant.

Always a great place to shoot photos - no tourists run between you and your lens I added to my collection. Earlier shots are all analog and I will post them after scanning.

Buttonwillow has a lot of memories and no tangible paraphernalia. I do have the original LA Weekly story on paper - no URL available - maybe I can add it here.

If you drive I-5 in the Central Valley, take the time and visit Buttonwillow.



East of Amazon

  Klezmer music at Bird & Beckett

Chelm Feelharmonic.jpgSome experiences are offline only. Amazon cannot deliver on this. Yes - the book I got for my friend was a full 30% plus tax more expensive than online and I had to go there and get it. But then I had a nice chat with Eric and showed my daughter a real bookstore - "what they had in the old days", as she calls it.

It is unlikely that Amzon is opening a neighborhood bookstore that sells Trotzki, Jung, and Children's books new and used anytime soon - where you can sit on the floor reading and listening to the Klezmer Music performed by the pretty mixed group of the Chelm Feelharmonic.

Jazz most Friday evenings.

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc

Just because everything is related to everything else does not mean it is caused by everything else. Businessweek has a nice collection of statistical graphics showing how everything can also be explained by everything else.  



Cum hoc ergo propter hoc – Correlation does not imply causationmit diesem, also deswegen

Businessweek via BoingBoing



Not Really Real - Two Cities

Recently I received a link to a wonderfully real video of Vienna

Vienna Airlines Motionride - Full CG 3D Animation from immortal-arts on Vimeo.

that is completely computer generated.

And then a few days ago I received a link to wonderfully artificial video of San Francisco


that is completely real and shot in the city

Compare the two impressions - make sure you watch them in full-screen mode and post a comment


O glücklich, wer noch hoffen kann,Aus diesem Meer des Irrtums aufzutauchen! Was man nicht weiß, das eben brauchte man, Und was man weiß, kann man nicht brauchen. - Goethe: Faust I, Vers 1064 ff.

Somewhat interesting Information on the verge of being useless is at the core of the Web - and not by coincidence. The constant complaints about "information overload" are rooted in the idea that information aggregation and dissemination follows a simplistic model of sender and receiver and being at the receiving end, all you can do, is to hold the funnel and explore/experience all the stuff that comes in.

Looking for "really high-up" restaurant for M. in San Francisco - she wants to look down onto toy-sized cars and people - I came across The Most Unusual Restaurants in the World - a comprehensive, interesting, list of eating places outside the "usual" (sic!). I had a hard time selecting one for a picture for this blog entry and ultimately settled for a Kiew restaurant serving as dessert: pork fat covered in chocolate: not kosher, not healthy and probably not very desirable - but it's Ungewöhnlich (unusual).

Information overload is directly related to the search for the unusual. A day spent with the "very usual", nothing special, just living and breathing is more special than the most special, exciting, unusual experience that often not delivers what it is hoping to promise. (to be continued).

Kiew Restaurant


Imagine the Lights go out - What would You Do?

Life is much easier today - when the lights go out because it rains a bit and the electrical installations in one of the major cities of one of the world's biggest economic power - California - shorten out, then smart phones become wonderful flashlights. The Droid with it's built-in LEDs is much more powerful than the iPhone with a white screen - we tested that today at M's dance school. Right after the performance ended - everything went dark.  The kids enjoyed the WWW-fun in the WorldWideWest. Back home, there was a much more romantic interpretation. I often get asked - "What is the difference between the Silicon Valley and Vienna?" – Just imagine the lights go out... enjoy!


Here and Now: We are there - yet

"Are we there yet?" - "When will we be there" - " I'm telling my five year old daughter that we're here and that this is as good a place as the one we're going to and that accepting and enjoying being here is essential practice. She understands the concepts of practice and mindfulness and asks "when are we away from this place". I'm not going to tell her that we are away from this place never and always before she's six (next month on my birthday). I recently found this comment on journey and destination by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur:

Some people say: “It’s not just about the destination, it’s about the journey.” I agree except if you don’t know where you are going… you can enjoy the sun, the dolphins or the octopuses swimming around you all day long, but it will still feel empty and boring.

Desperately looking for a "destination", stuck in "are we there yet"-mode, everything becomes boring. For bored kids in the back of the car, the problem (?) is easily solved with LCD screens, DVD players with integrated game console - preferably separate so there is no fight over the remote control  - and re-runs of entertaining time killers. (What does a mediocre Disney movie show that a look outside the window cannot easily compete with?)

We do the same - we're bored with the sun, the dolphins and feel empty when not entertained. We don't know where we're going. Unsatisfactory feelings and suffering (the Buddhists call it Dukkha) is largely driven by our desperate search for the direction to go to find what we enjoy.

Once we give up the desperate search for the destination, every step on our path becomes exciting, rewarding and part of the destination. Once we give up on the destination, we are in a much better place to pursue our goals, define destinations we want to reach in work, love, life and enjoy the ride there on every step.

180 Sout Soundtrack coverThe movie "180º South - Conquerors of the Useless" is a perfect description of a 5000 mile trip south from Ventura, CA to Patagonian Chile to climb a mountain that ultimately cannot be climbed to the top as the crumbling stone on the last 500 feet is not worth risking lives. You can see a trailer here. The movie is is on Netflix.


Waste Water while obsessing over Germs

I recently found this serious and interesting sign in the bathroom of a reputable restaurant in San Francisco: "Employees Must Wash Hands etc etc." Towards the end it gets interesting: "Turn off water with paper towel" - read "waste water for 45 seconds while drying hands, turn off tap with paper towel to protect yourself from disgusting and dangerous germs that may be stuck on the tap handle and then never touch anything again - especially not the door knob to get out of the bathroom."

Oh - and please consider the drought in California and serve your patrons water only upon request.

This is Nuts! - with Chocolate

In a world where it is illegal to bring nuts to preschool - they may be life threatening - it is good to know that today is World Nutella Day. As with most international brands, the US recipe it too sweet which covers the niche nut-chocolate flavor. You get the best quality in Italy; Austrian and German are OK. I will serve Crepes filled with Nutella tonight - will see if it is a "go" with M. (she's 5 and prefers my homemade jam)

Recipe to follow.

Leave a comment if you want to come over and try ...

Do Blogs need Humans?

We need blogs. More blogs, new blogs, blogs about everything and it is hard to envision how we ever lived without those little snippets of mostly irrelevant content. In a recursive way this applies equally to this blog entry. Blogs fall into multiple categories, including a few high-profile blogs read by many, a middle-ground of blogs with a more or less sizable readership and those who are not even intended to be read by anyone. And then there are blogs that are not even created by humans. And there are tests to find out if you're human. Bladerunner and Alan Turing explored this topic in very different ways, but more about that later. Maybe blogs can live and replicate and organize themselves in a completely human-free environment and would be much happier. I found an inbound link in my Wordpress dashboard to Deutsche Piraten Newcomer Blogcharts, a list of new and unknown blogs written in German. Floblogg is not new, it's only partly German but I guess it's pretty unknown. The list is limited to German, G-rated blogs The list is automatically generated from Technorati and a brief check of other blogs above and below my position #44 shows computer generated X-rated referral sites to Webcams and porn (Sorry no NSFW-links; not worth bothering about lists of links with mediocre sex pics). The blog is geneated automatically, entered into Technorati, selected for the list by a program and if successfully propelled into the Web, will replicate. Blogs feed of each other, they don't need us to intervene. Leaves the question if the pictures of the girls will eventually be replaced by images of chips and code.

Then there is Melanie's diary. I found it on the list and followed the link: A personal diary with extensive T&C (Terms and Conditions). Melanie still goes to school. Her face on the site, the links to her school easily give that away. She lives in a romantic little town at a lake near Salzburg (Yes! Sound of Music, of which she probably never heard of, only Americans know, for locals this was a mediocre, long forgotten musical from the 50s). And as she lives in this quiet little town, she also does not have to worry about putting her complete mailing address on the Web site. She also has a boyfriend and he also has a blog. There is no real content on the blog except a remark that she hasn't written in a long time and it will be soon time to write more. Maybe we should leave blogs to the blogs, board up all entries to the blog world and revert to read and write when we have something to say, to show, to share. We can use much of the blog software, which is basically a CMS for the rest of us. It's a Content Management System. No content - no need to manage. The software has serious limitations due to the chronological oder of entries and the temptation to create lots of little entries and write on and on. Which is why is stop now. Comments welcome.